When 9 to 5 Isn't For You

You're looking at your boss or your parents and thinking "No way am I interested in working like they do." You witness the focus on competitive professional performance, the quest for a raise, the stress about saving money for retirement, the cubicle-dwelling HVAC-maintained ecosystem, the polyester wardrobe. And you think, 

There has to be a better way. 

Millennials get a lot of crap for rejecting the traditional "work ethic". They are often criticized for being lazy or entitled and yet to learn about how to make a good impression in the world of work. And, sure, some young adults might be underperforming (just like some baby boomers are phoning it in and waiting for retirement). But I don't think the advice of "suck it up and learn to put in your time" is the answer. That really isn’t the whole story.

Because this whole traditional workweek lifestyle kind of sucks! Sure, it has perks for some, we can all be grateful for reliable income. There is an advantage that comes with steady benefits and an organizational structure (some level of stability, good health insurance, coverage if you're out sick and paid leave), but I'm not convinced those benefits are any better than the benefits that can come from alternative work schedules and lifestyles. They're just different. Fundamentally this comes down to work-life balance and flexibility, and that's something that every worker can get behind today. It's one of the most written-about topics, and it comes in lots of different costumes - how we can accommodate the needs of working parents, women in the workplace, stress, workplace health, and time management. These are issues that are highlighted by professionals of all generations, and that young workers have keenly picked up on, though perhaps much earlier in their career trajectories than others did. 

So, whether you're 20 or 50, what should you do when you're looking at the job options in front of you and thinking "no way, man."? 

1. What's Your Ideal?
I had an appointment with a student recently who said, "I've decided I'm really a 30-hour-a-week kind of worker." I can see the eyes rolling from you managers out there. I know what you're thinking. But this young woman is motivated, capable, and, from the way she talks about it, seems great at her work. She believes that 30 hours of work is sustainable for her, allows her to make the most of her life outside her work without burning herself out, and will be enough time to make a difference in her workplace. So like her, be honest with yourself about what you want. She wants 30 hours a week, and a salary of at least $50,000 that will allow her to be financially secure, and time to take classes and spend time with her partner. She has clearly outlined her ideal and identified a few other values and characteristics that she would like to be a part of her next work arrangement. 

2. Propose it.
Once you know what you want, share that with others. And banish the shame. There are lots of people who will call you crazy, and that's because the system works for them, or they don't have the courage to think about how to do it differently. But the system doesn't work for you, and you do have the courage to come up with a better idea. So think concretely about how to make it work. Tell people what your ideal looks like. One of my coworkers who negotiated an arrangement where he works 100% remotely from abroad said to his boss, "I'm ready to leave. But I'd be happy to continue to do this work from abroad, and I have some ideas for how to make that do-able. Would you like to see a proposal?" 

3. Negotiate
Be prepared for compromise. Your relationship with your employer includes give and take, and good negotiation centers on values. What are the values most central to the ideal lifestyle/work arrangement you're hoping for? Similarly, can you anticipate what values are most critical to your employer or future employer? Is there a way to propose an arrangement that addresses both sets of values? In my case, for example, my biggest values are time to travel and minimizing stress. My employer values my being available to students and job placement statistics, so it's critical that I weave those values into my proposal and my negotiation. What arrangements could I suggest that would minimize my stress and give me time to prioritize travel during the year that would also ensure I'm available and doing a great job? What might you be flexible on to meet both your needs and your employer's?

Rejecting the status quo is not unreasonable and does not mean you’re entitled, lazy, or unfit to be considered a valuable professional asset. It does mean that you will have to pave your own path, to be creative in how you approach your work and your values. You may need to shop for a work environment (or build your own) that is conducive to what you want out of your life. But if you can demonstrate respect for the needs and limitations of your colleagues and pair that with confidence to ask for what you require to live a life according to your values, then you’ll be moving in the right direction.